Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

It's the last day of 2011 so let's wrap up with one final installation of "Saturday morning coffee," shall we?

- If you're looking for an entertaining alternative to a New Year's Eve party or New Year's Rockin' Eve with Dick Clark, check out Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in the theaters. There's a reason it's the box office hit of the holiday season.

- Imitating Santa Claus does not pay. A Stockton, CA teen, George Herrera, tried to sneak back into his home, after breaking his parents' curfew, by climbing down the chimney. Herrera got stuck and firefighters had to be called to pull him to safety.

- Viggo Mortensen, star of such movies as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, offers us this week's quote of the week. Mortensen has no patience for actors who go through the motions once they've made it big and said this in a recent interview: "You're tired!? Come on! The crew isn't tired? The crew who got here two hours before you and who'll be here two hours after you leave, and who are being paid, in many cases, one thousandth of what you're being paid!? Life is too short to work with idiots."

- Of the 11 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced this month, only one is a woman--singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. Since its founding in 1983, only 40 of the 296 inductees have been women or included female members.

- On any given day, 58% of us go online for no other reason than to have fun or pass the time. (Source: Pew Research)

- Looking ahead, what should we expect from 2012? According to The Hollywood Reporter, here are five trends for 2012: 1. Facebook finally goes public. 2. Stars take more control, i.e., taking more control of user-generated content. 3. NBC's Olympics battle Twitter. (Can the network control the flow of information so that tweets don't pre-empt programming?) 4. Hollywood's box office slump faces a crucial test--was the box office lag of 2011 an aberration, or the sign of a trend? 5. James Murdoch feels the heat as the News Corp. scandal deepens.

Let me sign off by saying that, once again, it's been a kick writing for those of you who follow this space for my idle ramblings. Here's wishing you the absolute best in the New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011 - vol. 4

Here you go, readers--the final volume of the "hits, misses and 'who cares' of 2011."

Hit: The Good Wife (CBS) lost a step this season but is still the best written, best acted primetime drama on network television.

Miss: What is up with Target's insistence on using the wildly irritating actress, in pre-Christmas advertising, hyping their pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales?

Who cares: Taylor Swift--I still Just-Don't-Get-It.

Hit: Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez joined holdover judge Randy Jackson on American Idol (FOX.) And, guess what--it worked! The chemistry of the trio was better than all but the earliest years of Idol.

Miss: AMC went to war with Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, in intense negotiations about the future of the show. While it appears that Weiner won several concessions from the network, the losers were viewers of this top-notch show which went dark throughout 2011. The next season of Mad Men will begin in March 2012.

Who cares: Conan O'Brien returned to nighttime television after a very public dispute with NBC. And, Coco's return has been met with a collective yawn by the vast audience of potential viewers, netting less-than-stellar ratings for Conan (TBS.)

Hit: Daniel Craig, star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, publicly called out the Kardashians in British GQ for getting paid to behave "like f--king idiots on television."

Miss: Is there a Broadway show in recent memory which has been as troubled as Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark? This most expensive production in Broadway history had several false starts, including injuries to actors involved in stunts, before finally opening in June. Reviews for the show have been less than kind.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011 - vol. 3

I know you're sitting there with your morning coffee, waiting anxiously for this third installment of the "hits, misses and 'who cares' of 2011." So, let's get after it, shall we?

Hit: In this age of the dressing down of America, it's nice to see shows like Mad Men and Pan Am succeed, given their 1960's fashion-forward look. Can we please bring that fashion sense back to today's work world?

Miss: Elizabeth Taylor as in "we will miss Ms. Taylor." Taylor was a movie star in every sense of the phrase--she achieved artistic success with her on-screen exploits and was tabloid fodder for her off-screen activities. Her beauty made her one of the most adored women in the world and her involvement in AIDs research raised millions.

Who cares: Maybe it's just me but does anyone really care about Paul McCartney anymore? Who McCartney has married this week is of no interest and his music is irrelevant.

Hit: HBO knocked it out of the park again with its original series, Game of Thrones. Other cable networks--notably AMC--are doing great work with their original series but HBO still sets the standard.

Miss: When I first saw Scotty McCreery two years ago on American Idol, I thought "nice, knock off voice of Josh Turner (country and western artist.)" Now, seeing McCreery appear on a variety of national television shows and on tour, my question is "really!?"

Hit: Is there a funnier actress in America than Melissa McCarthy? I first noticed McCarthy on Samantha Who?, the short-lived sitcom starring Christina Applegate. This year, McCarthy broke out with her performance in Bridesmaids coupled with her TV turn on Mike & Molly.

Miss: In 2011 we lost an iconic rock-and-roll presence in Clarence Clemons, longtime saxophonist and sidekick for Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band.

Who cares: It was a bad year for Eddie Cibrian. First, he fails miserably at elevating The Playboy Club from the list of really bad television. And, he makes this list a second time due to his marriage to singer LeAnn Rimes. These two are a "celebrity" couple which just falls in the "who cares" category.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What if "Fatal Attraction" had ended differently?

Who doesn't remember the chilling ending to Fatal Attraction, the 1987 thriller starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close? That suspenseful ending wasn't the original conclusion to the movie, which grossed more than $300 million in box-office earnings, and it was through the involvement of Joseph Farrell that the planned ending was changed.

Farrell, a marketing executive at Paramount Pictures, died on December 7 and his passing brought back the story of the drama surrounding the end of Fatal Attraction.

The original planned ending had Close's character, the psychopathic stalker to Douglas' Dan Gallagher, commit ritualistic suicide as she listens to a recording of "Madame Butterfly." Farrell insisted on testing the movie with preview audiences--and those consumers openly rejected the ending as unsatisfying. Given the findings, Farrell insisted that director Adrian Lyne re-shoot the ending. And, we all now remember that captivating finish where Douglas seemingly kills Close's Alex Forrest in a struggle in the bathtub, only to have her re-emerge and then be shot by Douglas' wife, played by Anne Archer.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars but would not have gained this critical and consumer acclaim if not for the efforts of the late Farrell, the unknown and offscreen hero of Fatal Attraction.

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011 - vol. 2

Here you go, loyal readers--the second volume of this week's feature on the hits, misses and, of course, the "who cares" of this past year.

Hit: Modern Family (ABC.) This smart comedy is the best sitcom on network television and, unlike most shows, is picking up momentum in season three.

Miss: The Playboy Club (NBC.) Eddie Cibrian did his best poor man's Don Draper but where this show failed was with the implausible story line. Unlike Pan Am, this period piece failed.

Who cares: Charlie Sheen. Why even devote another line of copy to this "story?"

Hit: Justified (FX.) If you didn't watch season two of this FX drama, you missed terrific acting and writing plus the Emmy performance of Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett. Timothy Olyphant stars as Raylan Givens, a Federal Marshall who goes back home to Kentucky and the various crime activities which take place in Harlan County. The new season of Justified starts on January 17.

Miss: James Franco's host role on the Oscars was painful to watch. Anne Hathaway, as co-host, tried her best but Franco's performance as Oscar emcee was not only a puzzling pick but a sad reality--he was horrible.

Who cares: The X Factor (FOX.) This much-hyped reality show, the brainchild of Simon Cowell, was much adieu about little and failed to eclipse the standard of Cowell's former show, American Idol.

Hit: Finale, Friday Night Lights (NBC.) Few shows in recent TV history have combined the ensemble cast excellence, taut writing, and real life drama of Friday Night Lights. Unfortunately, the critically acclaimed FNL failed to build critical audience mass given little help from NBC in how the drama was yanked around on the network's schedule. The emotional final episode, while sad given the show's end, was poignant and fulfilling. "Clear eyes, full hearts...can't lose!"

Miss: Lights Out (FX.) You say you've never heard of this show? Don't fret--few did as it lasted only one season. The drama, starring Stacey Keach and Holt McCallany in the lead role as "Lights" Leary, was gripping in its account of a retired heavyweight champion who struggled with life outside the ring.

Who cares: It/they starts with a “K” and ends with an “N.” Can we all make a pact to not buy any of their products or watch any of their reality TV shows this year?

Hit: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach. My favorite novel of 2011 follows the exploits of Henry Skrimshander, a baseball fielding savant, and his peeps at fictional Westish College.

Miss: Steve Jobs, as in "we will miss you, Steve Jobs." Jobs' impact on our lives has been well documented--it will be interesting to see how his legacy continues to play out at Apple.

Who cares: Justin Bieber has the hair and, apparently, the voice but watching him move from adolescence to adulthood is just plain creepy. Why do so many young stars find it necessary to leap from pre-teen to 30 in their behavior?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011

What were the hits and misses of this past year? And, of course, what were the "who cares?" Let me break it down for you with this first edition of "hits, misses and 'who cares'."

Hit: Homeland (Showtime.) This modern day espionage thriller may have been the hit of the television year. Homeland is a smart drama featuring Claire Danes in an Emmy-worthy role complemented by strong performances by Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis.

Miss: Charlie’s Angels (ABC.) Those of us who are old enough to remember the original show know that it was bad but the eye candy was first rate. This show was so bad that one couldn't even focus on the eye candy.

Who cares: Coke may have been guilty of a poor brand identity move by producing white Coke cans for its "regular" Coke brand. But, the outcry from devotees of “real” Coke who felt that the can color changed the taste was just plain silly.

Hit: The Royal wedding was "the" event of the year and made a pop culture star out of Pippa Middleton, sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The lovely rear view of Middleton, broadcast to millions worldwide, immediately made her an internet sensation.

Miss: Grey’s Anatomy (ABC.) One, is there a more dislikable ensemble acting cast on television? And, two, the various story lines for this former ABC hit have not yet jumped the shark but are in pre-jump position.

Who cares: Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore split given rumors of his philandering and stories of her insecurities about her looks. Raise your hand if you were shocked by this news. Yep, that's what I thought...

Hit: Volkswagen’s “The Force” commercial first aired during Super Bowl week, as well as on the game broadcast, and became one of the most-watched YouTube commercials of the year.

Miss: Does anybody really understand why the erectile dysfunction spot for the Cialas brand ends with a couple lounging in separate bathtubs outside? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Who cares: The final season of Entourage whimpered through 10 or so shows before trying to neatly tie up all story lines in a convenient bow at the conclusion of this formerly fun series on HBO.

Tomorrow--Check this space out tomorrow for volume II of our "Hits, Misses and 'Who Cares' of 2011."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Social buzz for Holiday television

Can you imagine George Bailey's consternation--beyond the mere fact that he got to see what the world would be like without him--had he known that those who watched It's A Wonderful Life could utilize this thing called social media to comment as well?

Bluefin Labs has analyzed the social media buzz around holiday-themed television and found that Elf, the holiday comedy starring Will Ferrell, won the social media sweepstakes by a wide margin. But, that victory had to do with the number of times the movie aired--eight times on USA and twice on SyFy between December 1-18.

When Bluefin factored number of mentions compared against number of airings, the social media winner was Michael Buble's A Michael Buble Christmas, which aired just once on ABC. Buble benefited from fellow crooner Justin Bieber's Twitter following as Bieber's tweeting posse helped promote the show given the young star's appearance on Buble's special.

The other interesting phenomenon was that shows which aired later in the month, closer to Christmas, garnered more social media mentions thus indicating that the holiday spirit built over the course of the month. A Charlie Brown Christmas which aired on December 15 received three times as many mentions as the one airing December 5.

Here is the top ten list based upon mentions per airing:

1. A Michael Buble Christmas (NBC)
2. CMA Country Christmas (ABC)
3. A Very BET Christmas 2011 (BET)
4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC)
5. It's A Wonderful Life (NBC)
6. Elf (USA/SyFy)
7. Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (ABC)
8. Christmas in Washington 2011 (TNT)
9. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (ABC Family)
10. The Polar Express (Disney)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas Eve, one and all! Let's take a cruise around to see what's going on in that world of last-minute shopping, shall we?

- Did you know that Dom Perignon was a 17th-century Benedictine monk? Nope, I didn't either, but I thought you might like that little fun fact given the bubbly which will be imbibed over the next week at various holiday gatherings and such.

- None other than TV and radio mogul Ryan Seacrest is a Christmas Eve baby. Seacrest turns 37 today.

- The wild, wild west isn't alive and well in Steamboat Springs, CO. Three people recently left a bar in that ski town, commandeered three horses, and then rode them into a Starbucks and a Safeway in search for some munchies. (Hmm, wonder what they were smoking along with their bar libations?) The night ended for the three amigos when local police tasered and arrested them.

- In case you had not heard, don't be licking the bowl today if you're baking any Christmas cookies. A recent study found that a 2009 E.coli outbreak, that sickened 80 people in 30 states, was caused by eating raw cookie dough.

- It's a cat's life: A former stray Italian cat recently inherited more than $15 million. Real estate investor Maria Assunta died last month and bequeathed her entire fortune to Tommasino, a stray cat Assunta had adopted. Assunta's former nurse is trustee for Tommasino's millions.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Say it ain't so, Smokestack!

It's a sad day in the barbecue community of Kansas City--Smokestack barbecue, on Wornall, has closed.

The original Smokestack, opened in 1957 by the Fiorella family, was located off of Highway 71. Jack Fiorella, a son of the owners, branched off in 1974 and opened Fiorella's Smokestack in Martin City. This location, and two others he would eventually open, became Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue.

Mary Fiorella, a daughter of the owners, also branched off and opened Smokestack BBQ at 8920 Wornall during the mid-1980s. Mary died a few years ago and her son had been managing the Wornall location since her death.

Smokestack closed a few days ago but there are plans in the works to sell a Smokestack line of barbecue products at select retail locations in Kansas City.

(Source: The Kansas City Star)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Here you go: The top Christmas movies ever

Hello, dear readers, and Happy Holidays. You probably read the headline to this piece and thought "just what I need--another top ten list of Christmas movies." But, you see, this is my list so read up to find out which are "must see" movies this holiday season.

Holiday Inn (1942): This isn't technically a Christmas movie but it is the first time we hear Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas." For that alone, this one makes the list. (And, the dancing of Fred Astaire isn't bad either.)

A Christmas Carol (1984): I prefer this version with George C. Scott, one of the best American actors ever. Or, maybe I'm just intrigued at watching the guy who played General George S. Patton (Patton) and General Buck Turgidson (Dr. Strangelove) take a turn as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978): This makes the list because of how fun it was to watch with my daughter. Big Bird worries when Oscar tells him that Santa can't fit down the chimney. And, of course, the story is told with typical Sesame Street grace and care.

White Christmas (1954): It's not really the Christmas season until I see Crosby singing "White Christmas," with Rosemary Clooney, in those redder-than-red outfits at the end of this classic.

The Preacher's Wife (1996):
This is a remake of The Bishop's Wife (Cary Grant) but gets the nod due to Denzel Washington as an incredibly charming Dudley and a pre-meltdown Whitney Houston displaying her gospel singing chops.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947): A young Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn, as Santa Claus, star in this black-and-white classic. What I love is how the importance of magic and make-believe is central to this sentimental story.

Home Alone (1978): Yeah, it's goofy and unbelievable. But, c'mon, the "battle scene" in the house is great slapstick humor and Roberts Blossom, as Harley, turns from threatening neighbor to cuddly grandpa by the end of the flick.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946): Everyone's favorite never grows old--the story of George Bailey and what life would have been like had he not existed is timeless. The all-star cast includes James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Thomas Mitchell.

And, now, it's time for the final two. Let me first qualify by saying that one isn't technically a movie but it's multi-year run as America's favorite Christmas special qualifies it for status on this list.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989):
This is the best of the "vacation" movies featuring Clark Griswold and family and the highlights are many--Clark's attempt to create the best "exterior illumination" display ever, the escapades of Cousin Eddie, and the all-too-familiar tension created by invading in-laws during the holidays. This movie shines with the one-liners which have woven their way into our vernacular, particularly at this time of year.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Yes, I know--this is not a movie but a television special which has now aired for 46 years! Charlie Brown, upset at the commercialism he sees around him, seeks the true meaning of Christmas. Leave it to Linus, Charlie's deep, even-tempered friend, to calmly explain it, reciting those wonderful lines from the gospel of Luke. Ever the klutz, Charlie gang of companions rally around him and display the wonder of this special season.

There, quite the list, isn't it? Happy viewing!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Keith!

Happy Birthday today to Keith Richards, one of rock-and-roll's bad boys, who turns 68. The Rolling Stones guitarist was recently voted the tenth best guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

Good morning, campers--happy Saturday morning to you! Are you plotting your attack today on the last full weekend of holiday shopping? Yeah, me neither...

Let's look at what's going on out there in the wild world of popular culture, consumer behavior and interesting "news."

- The final episode of Homeland airs on Showtime tomorrow night. The series is one of the best of the season, earning impressive ratings and critical acclaim. Claire Danes' performance as Carrie Mathison is Emmy-worthy stuff and Damian Lewis, as Sgt. Nicholas Brody, offers a simmering unease--is he really a terrorist or not? It will be interesting to see if Homeland delivers a knockout finale, or disappoints viewers, a la The Killing (AMC), which left its murder mystery unsolved in its final episode last spring.

- Attention, Baby Boomers, 2012 looks to be the music tour year for you. As previously reported, not only will acts like The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen tour next year, but look for The Rolling Stones to figure out what they plan to do to honor their 50th anniversary. Now, none other than The Beach Boys have announced that they will hit the road in support of a new studio album. The lineup will include original members Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine, as well as early members Bruce Johnston and David Marks.

- Say it ain't so! Daniel Ruettiger, best known as Rudy from the 1993 inspirational movie by that name, is in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ruettiger has been named as a key participant in a so-called pump-and-dump stock scheme that generated more than $11 million in supposedly illegal profits for Rudy Nutrition, a now defunct beverage company. The SEC contends that Ruettiger and 12 others made false and misleading statements about the company in news releases, SEC filings and promotional materials, in 2008, in a scheme to lure investors. Ruettiger agreed to pay over $380,000 to settle the SEC's charges without admitting or denying them. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

- A recent Pew poll indicates that fewer Americans are getting married. Social media reaction to the poll indicates that 38% are upset at the results, 36% theorize as to the cause, 22% remain optimistic about marriage, and 4% joke about the results. (Source: Netbase)

- The end-of-year "best" lists have begun as I've seen two different major media outlets publish their list of "best books of 2011." My top three would be The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, plus the book I'm currently engrossed in--11/22/63 by Stephen King.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The best Christmas music ever

Let me make an observation and offer up an opinion--the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas is the best Christmas music...ever.

I make that observation because I find that most everyone reacts positively when hearing one of Guaraldi's songs from that soundtrack. And, I think the positive reaction stems from the ability of the listener to immediately link the song with the right scene from the show, and the good feelings generated by that 1965 classic.

Maybe it's the visual of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, and how that descriptor has become a part of our vernacular for trees which aren't quite to the lush standard that we aspire to; or maybe it's the visual of the children singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," with comically open mouths, at the end of this Christmas show. Or, maybe it's simply because Guaraldi's music for this show is just good and right on for the context of Charles Schulz's classic.

Whatever the reason, Guaraldi's music engenders nostalgia, hope, wonder and a smile. It's withstood the test of these 46 years and always seems to hit just the right chord, each year, as we seek to keep the true meaning of Christmas in Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas track listing:
1. O Tannenbaum
2. What Child Is This?
3. My Little Drum
4. Linus and Lucy
5. Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)
6. Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal)
7. Skating
8. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
9. Christmas Is Coming
10. Fur Elise
11. The Christmas Song

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The good, the bad...and the indifferent

- Good: Peter Larson, a Plymouth, MN teenager, has been sleeping in a sleeping bag in a box since age six in order to raise money to help the homeless. Larson has spent almost 300 nights sleeping outdoors in temperatures as low as 20 below zero. He's hoping to raise $100,000 this year after raising $400,000 via his previous efforts--he gets donors to pledge based upon the number of nights spent outdoors.

- Bad: Kim Kardashian is on "lockdown," according to Kardashian's mother, Kris Jenner, has reportedly quarantined Kim from the press given the fallout from the failed nuptials with Kris Humphries. Does it strike you as odd that Jenner is giving her daughter crisis management advice?

- Indifferent: A British study found out that men now spend 81 minutes a day on personal grooming, i.e., shaving, moisturizing, washing and picking out clothes. Women, in contrast, spend 75 minutes per day on personal grooming.

- Good: In the "you can't make this 'stuff' up" department, it was revealed that Medicare has spent $240 million over the past decade on penis pumps for recipients over 65 who suffer from erectile dysfunction.

- Bad: A suburban New York elementary school teacher is facing disciplinary action because she told her second grade class that there is no Santa Claus. The fateful news to the youngsters came after they identified the North Pole as the "place where Santa Claus lives."

- Indifferent: Scarlett Johanson and Blake Lively are feuding over Ryan Reynolds, according to Johansson is supposedly upset because her ex-husband is dating Lively, the former girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio.

- Good: Thank you, Target, for jettisoning the irritating female in your earlier holiday advertising and replacing that campaign with the current, far more appealing work.

- Bad: Is there any jewelry advertising, during this holiday season, that stands out? The "Every Kiss Begins with Kay" campaign has long worn out its welcome and the Jared work is, well, bad.

- Indifferent: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt installed a special lighting system in their French chateau. The lights are designed to help them ward off the effects of jet lag given their many worldwide travels. The expensive lighting system is usually found only in private aircraft and first class airline sections.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Love-hate relationship with snow

We're experiencing our first snowfall of the season here in K.C.-town and it's thus time to list out all of the reasons why snow is cool, and not so much.

Why I love snow:

- The beauty of soft snowfall when the ground is covered and not yet bruised by feet and tire tracks.

- The reminder of the excitement of snow from when one was a child.

- Is there anything better, on a snowy day, than building a fire and hunkering down inside?

Why I hate snow:

- Those SUV drivers--and you know who you are--who decide that snowfall means "look at me go fast! Whee...!!!"